Monday, July 7, 2014

Finding that First Job - Take a Hard Look at What You Are Doing

Finding that First Job - Take a Hard Look at What You Are Doing
You may need to change things up!

I am a professor in the accounting and finance department at the Charlton College of Business, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  Our business professors of course, teach their classes but are also advisors to a slate of students.  As those students enter their senior year, our advising conversations often transition from questions like: "What classes do I take?", "Would this be a good minor?", "What would be an appropriate elective?", and "How can I find an internship?" to "How can I find a full-time job?"  That last question is often the toughest one.  Sometimes it is a bit late in the game for that question as the best way to position oneself for a career is to do many things throughout the four years to pave the path.

I push students to utilize our career development center, to join clubs, and to network.  To be most effective at landing an internship and/or finding that first job, I tell students that they must work the "career development value chain" to their advantage.  That means staying at it throughout all four years of college and certainly ramping up career-related activities and networking in their junior and senior years.  Working through the career development value chain increases the odds that a student will eventually walk down the right path and into a great career.... and have a job offer before graduation!
What follows is the story of how one very good accounting student – a young man who did many of the right things but was on the verge of graduating in December of 2013 without a job. His aspirations were to work in public accounting.  As you read his story, you will learn that he was persistent and did reach out to others and in the end, landed a good opportunity with a Big 4 accounting firm.  His story also illustrates the importance of connecting with alumni – they are the best source of quality internships and permanent jobs for undergrads coming out of college.

In the story that follows,  I have changed names and have left out some minor details but anyone reading this story should learn a few of the important lessons of seeking that first job.  I call the student Steve (that is not his real name).  Keep in mind that Steve was a very good student and was active in the college.   As his college career was winding down, Steve in the 11th hour used a combination of approaches to generate job leads but in the beginning his leads were a bit cold.  He started with traditional job search activities that so many students follow - like blasting out resume via job portals.  I believe all students should do that and that might land you a job but it is often not all that effective and it certainly wasn't getting Steve the warm job leads he so desired.  Eventually, you will see how he reached out for help and in the end used networking to his supreme advantage.
Steve's search for a job began in October 2013. He was to graduate in of December 2013 so there wasn't much time remaining.  He started applying for accounting positions through, Monster, and other job posting websites and was an devote follower of my internship blog where I do sometimes list full-time job opportunities at small CPA firms from our region.  Through these methods, Steve applied to nearly 100 positions and he applied for anything that was entry level accounting related.  

Astonishingly Steve received no word back.  A bit discouraged and with only a month to go before graduation, he (I was his advisor) came to me and expressed his frustration.  I recommended that he have his resume reviewed and discuss his plans with our Career Development staff.  Steve told me he had already done that.
 Understanding that he wanted public accounting, I handed him a copy of the Massachusetts Society ofCPAs  College Student's Guide for Accounting Firms in Massachusetts. The guide is also available for download from the MSCPA website and if a student joins MSCPA they receive a hardcopy of the guide (student membership is only $25).  I always suggest that our accounting students join the MSCPA as they host career fairs and other opportunities for networking and career planning.  The MSCPA membership is another one of those career development value chain activities that I think is crucial.    It is also a good resume item.

Massachusetts Society of CPA's book with listings of all public accounting firms and the requirements needed to become a CPA.  He used that book to narrow his search to just CPA firms within commuting distance.  He was looking at firms did not require 150 credit hours to apply since many firms are currently looking for applicants with some progress towards the 150 credit requirement for the CPA exam.
Using the MSCPA guide, Steve did have some success with his targeted approach.  His mailings yielded four interviews and ultimately Steve had 2 offers from local firms.  A much better outcome than his prior efforts produced.    The lesson is that if one method isn't working, change up and try something else from your bag of tricks.

With about a month to go till graduation Steve got phone call from a partner at one of the big 4.  The source of that call provides yet another lesson in job hunting.  The partner, alum of the Charlton College of Business, was looking for a solid accounting student from UMASS Dartmouth for a position in the tax department.  He had called me and asked for some names.  I gave the recruiter Steve's name and contact information and that's why he called Steve.
Steve got an interview with the firm in its Boston office. After that interview Steve was offered a full time job as a tax associate.  Little did Steve know, that the big 4 accounting firm had previously hired a UMASS Dartmouth graduate who was working out well and therefore the partner decided to reach out to me.  Had I not know of Steve's situation and his current search activities, I would not have given his name.   The lesson is that you must let everyone know of your efforts and what you are searching for.  Contact your advisor, your former professors; connect with family and friends, and contacts you have made over the course of your college career.  You never know when the perfect storm of events will lead to a serendipitous yet career changing event.

Steve reports after about 6 months in the tax group, things are going well and that two out of the three partners on the floor in the office in Boston are UMD alumni.  Steve continues to develop his network. Steve reports that the tax group is a great group to work for and he is very appreciative of the" break he got."   I believe Steve did get a nice break but as the saying goes - you make your own "breaks" when you hunt for a job.  You do that by working the "career development value chain", attending job fairs, and by letting everyone know that you are looking for a job.  If Steve hadn't visited me and told me what he had been doing, I wouldn't have had his situation at the top of my mind when the recruiter contacted me.
Michael Griffin is a CPA and an accounting professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  He is author of the book: Business Internships which is available from  His twitter is @MikePGriffin.